3-2 vote ‘saves’ health department

Constituent feedback sways commissioners

Citing opposition from their constituents, three Milam County commissioners voted against transferring duties of the county health department to the state Monday.

The 3-2 vote left the health department in county hands. For several weeks there had been debate over whether the state should assume duties as a cost-cutting measure.

County Judge Dave Barkemeyer, who said Monday the county could be forced to borrow money for the last couple of months of 2016 if the Luminant lawsuit isn’t resolved, had proposed the switch.

But Commissioners Jeff Muegge and John Fisher said they’d heard overwelming opposition to the idea from their constituents. “I’m willing to gamble (on a satisfactory outcome) on Luminant,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Fisher said.

CUTBACKS—County Judge Dave Barkemeyer had proposed the change as a way to save money, as the Luminant valuation litigation between the company and Milam Appraisal District (AD) plays out.

Barkemeyer noted that even if a jury trial, now scheduled for September, is decided in the AD’s (county’s) favor an appeal is likely.

He said by November the county may have as much as a $1.5-million shortage in its general fund. (Luminant paid its 2016 taxes at its rendition level, not the much higher assessment of the AD’s. That’s what the suit is over.)

Barkemeyer had said the savings from transferring health department duties to the state would be substantial.

But the prospect of cutbacks in service and office hours, including both Cameron and Rockdale, concerned large numbers of residents.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Muegge said he had talked to police and fire departments about the proposal.

“It affects more than just immunization,” he said. “It affects law enforcement and emergency people.”

“I have yet to have anybody tell me they want this to go to the state,” Muegge said.

SUPPORT—Jennifer Horne of Project Head Start told commissioners the move would “hurt our children.”

Patsy Gaines, who directed the Milam Health Department for 32 years, noted the county created the department in 1940.

Muegge, Fisher and Precinct 2 Commissioner Donald Shuffield voted to “leave the Health Department as operations were before.”

Barkemeyer and Precinct 1 Commissioner Opey Watkins voted against that motion.

COMBINED—Commissioners voted unanimously to combine the county’s election and voter registration functions into one department.

The plan, worked out by County Clerk Barbara Van- sa and Tax Collector Sherry Mueck, will see county employee Nancy Tucker transfer from the Tax Office to the County Clerk’s office.

Previously voter registration had been handled in the Tax Office, while filing, mandatory reports and vote counting were duties of the County Clerk.

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2016-04-14 digital edition

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